The Irish Whiskey Academy

Irish Whiskey Academy

I hold my hands up when ever I conduct or host a tasting, masterclass or seminar and exclaim with the sentence “I confess, I don’t know everything about today’s subject”. Whether that is to be the history of a cocktail, the production of tequila or marketing of a beer, I always have to do my homework, and even then I may still have to refer to my notes to be able to deliver a confident speech or presentation. In my line of work, every day involves some kind of pitch. Even when I was bartending, you have to be confident in selling your products no matter what they are, and that’s exactly what I try to aim towards today. Whether my audience is to be a group of bartenders experiencing pisco for the first time, or thirty wine experts learning about the marketing a product in the modern-day, you have to be prepared for any outcome.

I attend many tastings and masterclasses to learn and experience a wide variety, which hopefully comes across within each article you read on this site. Inevitably I only know and therefore present to you what I take in, with official facts and stories entwined, but the chance to truly understand a category or indeed a specific brand can be rare. I’ve been very lucky since Drinks Enthusiast’s inception in that I have been able to appreciate first hand a variety of brands including Benedictine, Sloane’s, Sibling Distillery, Warner EdwardsAuchentoshan and most recently Grey Goose. All these trips have been an opportunity presented to me and in some cases would be hard for a regular customer to access. One experience is far from this statement, and to the UK, is presented right on the doorstep.

David McCabe of the Irish Whiskey Academy
David McCabe of the Irish Whiskey Academy

Last week, Irish Distillers of Pernod Ricard invited me to explore their relatively new concept within the Old Midleton Distillery, just outside of Cork. Since February 2013, The Irish Whiskey Academy has been offering an insight into the process of grain to bottle, and explain everything in between through modern and traditional techniques. The academy is taught through a classroom of sorts, within the renovated mill manager’s house at the boundary between the old and new Midleton distilleries. Here begins your journey into one of four packages that the academy offer, all presented by the incredibly knowledgeable David McCabe. For myself and the rest of the whiskey enthusiasts who had joined me from across the UK, Ireland and Netherlands, we experienced the ‘Enthusiast’ package (appropriately named I know!) which meant a two day look at everything the academy can offer.

The arrival at the Old Midleton Distillery offers an enticing view that easily transports you back to the 1800’s and sets the tone for the styles of buildings you will explore. In no particular order of itinerary, a tour of the old buildings dives into the workings of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, with the impressive Warehouse A1, one of the first warehouses that matured Cork Distillery whiskey, a must see. Interactive scenes gives you the best insight into the life of a distillery worker with even the likes of the customs office and waterwheel available to explore.

Malted Barley
Malted Barley

The main part of the academy though brings you to a comfortable lecture hall styled room. With movable blackboards offering clear diagrams, David McCabe explains everything from the raw materials used within the distillery, how each material is cultivated, brewed and fermented including the upgrade to modern techniques over the decades and the two main distillation methods used; pot and continuous distillation. Hands on approaches are also used, with the ability to see, smell and taste malted and unmalted barley straight from the fields, to the experiment of distilling water and alcohol within the classroom itself. An explanation into the differences between the variety of expressions created at the new distillery is also offered, so that you are fully aware of how each is created and ultimately shows a different flavour profile.

Staves are also handed out for a better understanding of the maturation techniques that the Irish Distillers use, as well as a look into their use of American and sherry oak barrels and how they came to be an integral part of the brands they create. This becomes even clearer with a demonstration within the cooperage itself, hosted by Master Cooper Ger Buckley. Here, Ger explains his role within the company and the art of creating a barrel through the tools used by previous generations. The insight into the woods used and the methods to repair casks that will ultimately hold whiskey for a number of years really gives an indication of how important the role of a Master Cooper can be.

Warehouse 42
Warehouse 42

This knowledge will also impart your beliefs and flavours into the blending exercise where you are able to blend your very own whiskey for you to take home. Not many places who can give you that kind of opportunity.

Of course, no academy course would be complete without a lesson in the art of truly appreciating the finished product. Held in the lounge area of the academy, itself adorned with old advertising posters, vintage photos and a wall of bottling’s from the Irish Distillers over the years, you can taste the likes of the Jameson range, Paddy’s, Powers, Midleton, Redbreast and both Green and Yellow Spot. To compliment, lunch at the Malt House, Jameson’s own restaurant within the Old Distillery, is a must.

Tasting the range within the Irish Whiskey Academy
Tasting the range within the Irish Whiskey Academy

Although I could write about everything I have learnt from my own two day trip, I feel that It would be more effective to explain within each of the features I have written, so please take a look at my articles of the Irish Distillers portfolio over the coming weeks for a more in-depth look at how each expression is created. In summarising this feature though,
I can’t stress enough that although the academy offers quite literally everything you need to know regarding not just Irish Distillers, but Irish whiskey in general, it’s not just for bartenders or expert whiskey lovers. I can safely say that all grades of knowledge will come away with an idea of what whiskey is all about. The four packages have been created to cater, and whichever you ultimately go for, you will go away with so much more than when you entered.

Get yourself signed up, enjoy yourself and try some fantastic whiskies. The Irish Whiskey Academy should be a high priority for anyone who has even a slight interest in Irish whiskey.

For more information on The Irish Whiskey Academy, please visit their website.

For more photos from my trip, please visit my Facebook page.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Redbreast Tasting Notes

Irish Distillers Announce the Launch of Redbreast 21

As mentioned in my piece on Powers Irish Whiskey, the Irish Distillers is the name of the subsidiary based in the New Midleton Distillery, Cork. It is here that the brands including Powers, Jameson and Tullamore Dew are created and produced. Another name that you may have heard, or indeed seen, is Redbreast.

The brand has been in the news lately as they have just launched their 9th expression in the portfolio – Redbreast 21yr. This new age-statement sits alongside the Redbreast 12yr, Redbreast 12yr Cask Strength and Redbreast 15yr to complete the largest-selling and most definitive Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey brand in the world.

Not a bad title eh? But how did it all come about to be named with such an accolade?

It all starts with W & A Gilbey, which was founded in 1857 and began in small basement cellars at the corner of Oxford Street and Berwick Street in London. Gilbeys benefitted greatly from the introduction of the off-licence system that was introduced in 1860, and a commercial agreement between Britain and France in 1861, following which, the British Prime Minister Gladstone reduced duty on French wines from 12 shillings to 2 shillings. Gilbeys were successful from the start and, within a couple of years, had branches in Dublin, Belfast and Edinburgh. 1861 saw Gilbeys open a premises at 31 Upper Sackville Street in Dublin (now called O’Connell Street), and were described as wine importers and distillers. Initially famous for their wines, spirits were becoming a greater part of Gilbey’s business. By 1874, Gilbeys held a stock in bond of over 300,000 gallons of whiskey sourced from “the most celebrated Dublin Distilleries”, with the proprietary brand at this time named Gilbey’s Castle Whiskey.

The precursor to Redbreast came in In 1903 as Gilbey’s whiskey brands at that time included Castle Grand JJ 6yr and Castle Liqueur JJ 10yr (JJ standing for John Jameson) and both bearing the signature of John Jameson & Son. The following year, John Jameson & Son’s Castle “JJ Liqueur” Whiskey 12yr, was being marketed in a bottle, similar in shape, and bearing the red and white label seen on Redbreast bottlings up until the 1960’s. In the mid 1960’s, Redbreast was being bottled annually in batches of approximately 4,000 gallons (18,000 litres) to satisfy a steady demand for the brand. Minor changes to the bottle occurred throughout the 1960’s including, from 1964, an age statement appearing on the foil cap seal. The familiar Redbreast white label with red writing remained largely unchanged until at least 1972.

In 1970, Irish Distillers Ltd. (IDL) decided to phase out the sales of bulk whiskey ‘by the cask’ to the wholesalers and retailers (bonders) who bottled it themselves. Increasing export demand, and plans to increase its portfolio of brands, necessitated the retention of as much mature whiskey as possible. Gilbeys however, managed to persuade IDL to continue supplying them pure pot still whiskey for Redbreast until the closure of Bow Street Distillery in the summer of 1971. The last bottling of Redbreast under the Gilbey’s banner occurred in 1985. In 1986 Gilbey’s, who had long since stopped maturing Redbreast in their vaults in Harcourt Street, entered into an agreement to sell the brand name to Irish Distillers.

In December 1991, Redbreast was re-introduced by Irish Distillers Limited, after an absence of almost 10 years. The pot still whiskey was given a thorough makeover and benefitted from the Irish Distiller’s revamped wood programme. It wasn’t all good though. Who could forget the ill-fated gesture to a local distributor of long-standing, Edward Dillon & Co, where Irish Distillers supplied an exclusive bottling of a Redbreast pot-still and grain whiskey blend. It didn’t catch on.

RedbreastNow though, the oldest and richest expression in the decorated Redbreast family, Redbreast 21yr, has been launched, eight years after the Redbreast 15yr made its debut. But how does it fare? Well below, I give to you my tasting note alongside its other expressions that I have come across –

Redbreast 12yr – 40%

Matured in oloroso sherry casks. Sharp on the nose with a rich aroma of red fruit. Hints of spice on the palate with a rich yet short offering of citrus and nuts.

Redbreast 21yr – 46%

Made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled in copper pot stills and matured in a combination of American Bourbon barrels and first fill Spanish oloroso sherry casks.
Dried fruits on the nose, with a subtle hint of bananas and pineapple near the end. Soft on  the palate with the oak and sherry dominating the smooth palate. A little spice on the lingering finish, with the barley the finale.

Some great expressions available, with the 21yr available now in very limited quantities.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.